Genre, Technology and Art: The Great Threat/Opportunity in the 21st Century

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the 20th Century, there was an Explosion.

…Ok, there were actually a ton of explosions (both literal and metaphorical) in the 20th Century, but I’m really only interested in one. Being a former music theorist, I am personally captivated by the classification of popular music. If you talk to a true fanatic of a sub-genre of music, they will likely know the etymology of that sub-genre and how to distinctly hear a difference between that sub-genre and some bordering sub-genre that would seem from the outside to be the exact same thing. I’m thinking of something along the lines of Hardcore Punk and Oi!, To the ear, they may sound similar to the layman, but to a fan of the subgenre it might be an insult to consider one of them to be the other. The explosion that I’m referring to is what I like to call the “Genre Explosion”. If you do a quick search for all of the sub-genres of Metal, for instance, it is likely that you will laugh at the many ridiculously specific terms people have coined to describe what a band with the name Cephalic Carnage sounds like (to which there is some discrepancy as CC says they are “rocky mountain hydro grind” where as others consider them a derivative of death metal known as, technical death metal….yeah). This obviously isn’t exclusive to rock genres. What is considered “techno”, “country”, “pop”, even “alternative” has evolved and split into factions. And it isn’t just exclusive to music either.

Why has this happened? My guess has to do with the evolutions across communication over the last century. Television, radio, records, tapes, cds and, most importantly, the internet have given more people wider access to culture that would’ve stayed in the fringe. Look at television. Broadcast television networks used to have huge market shares because you only had 4 or 5 options, but the rise of cable television has allowed quirkier things to be available to more people and taken a huge chunk out of broadcast market share.

Now, what about arts organizations? One of the interesting thing to me about performing arts is how well it can get away with doing the same thing for…years. It would be very easy to name five composers that will be featured this year by any major orchestra without looking at a single program. It is a guarantee that Carmen will be produced somewhere by a group that has already done Carmen at least once before. There are theaters all around the country that literally only produce works in iambic pentameter written by one dude. Luckily for those of us looking for jobs at one of these places, there are enough people in the world right now willing to buy tickets and donate money so that this niche can exist.

But my fear is essentially how long can this last. For profit entertainment is pretty fickle and though nostalgia for older bands, tv shows and movies can get it by for a while, it can’t really survive forever. I wonder if the rise in communication, while great for the spread of new ideas, will level out arts organizations because of a lack of interest. Certainly broadcast television is worried about advertisers jumping ship and arts organizations are noticing a strong fall in subscription sales across the board, but I’m wondering if a great change in what is produced is going to be essential for many of our performing arts to survive in the long run.

Or, I suppose, more Shakespeare.

-Zack

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